What is a Fiber-Optic Patch Panel?

C.B. Fox

A fiber-optic patch panel is used to separate out the fibers within a fiber-optic cable. By using one of these panels, the fibers can be spliced to individual fibers on other cables, allowing the cables to be crossed and connected in a variety of ways. In addition, the panel creates a safe environment in which to work with exposed fibers.

A fiber-optic patch panel allows cross connections.
A fiber-optic patch panel allows cross connections.

There are two main types of fiber-optic patch panels. One is a wall-mounted device, which, in its most basic form, can keep 12 different fibers separate from one another. If the fiber-optic cable has more than 12 fibers, the extra fibers can be moved to a second panel or an engineer can use a panel that is designed to hold more fibers separately. Wall-mounted panels can be constructed to hold up to 144 fibers at once.

Network cable testers are frequently used to troubleshoot issues with a patch panel.
Network cable testers are frequently used to troubleshoot issues with a patch panel.

The other type of panel is a rack-mounted panel. This type of panel holds the fibers horizontally and is often designed to open like a drawer. Sliding the panel open gives an optical engineer easy access to the fibers inside.

An optical engineer often uses a fiber-optic patch panel to test the fibers within an optical cable. Problems with a fiber-optic cable can be located within a single fiber when the fibers are split apart and tested separately. The panels make it easy to organize the fibers. Furthermore, working with the fibers within the tray of the fiber-optic patch panel protects the fibers from anything in the environment that could damage them.

A fiber-optic cable needs to be split at one end in order gain access to the individual fibers. The separated fibers are fed into different ports, each of which has a fiber-optic adapter. These adapters can then be used to plug individual fibers into other devices.

The adapters on a fiber-optic patch panel can come in a variety of different shapes. In most panels, all of the adapters are of the same type, but if there is more than one type of fiber-optic connector used within the network, it may be necessary to get a panel with hybrid adapters. These types of adapters can be used to connect different types of connectors on fiber-optic cables.

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Discussion Comments


@Terrificli -- I have seen that and something much worse -- no labels on the individual wires at all. No, you just get different colors (I suppose those mean something) and a snarl of wire. Some tech types don't know a thing about doing a job so it's tidy.

There is a tip, by the way. Before hiring a tech guy or gal, make sure you get someone who takes pride in neatness and clarity in a job. A lot of people don't make sure of that on the front end and wind up regretting it.


You know the biggest problems with these things? Labeling them so that other people can work on them if necessary. I have seen more than one tech guy put together one of these panels and label the individual wires in a way that only he or she understands. That is no problem if that engineer is the only one to ever work on the panel, but it can lead to a real mess if that person isn't available.

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